Baptism and Salvation

There are at least six passages in the New Testament that mention baptism and salvation together.  In reading them, one cannot help but notice that baptism is mentioned first in every one without exception.  A proper respect for the word of God should cause every Bible student to see that there is a reason for this fact.  That is, that no one in the days of the early church was ever baptized because he was already saved.  Yet many people today believe and teach that salvation comes at the point of faith, both before and without baptism.  They say that baptism is only “an outward sign of an inward feeling.”

Those who want to please God will not be satisfied with such reasoning; but will seek to learn what the scriptures teach about the relationship of baptism to salvation.

  1. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Mark 1:4).  Of course, we recognize that John’s baptism does not apply to believers in Christ today; but we do see here that it was a baptism for the remission of sins.  Therefore, we know that John did not teach salvation before or without baptism.
  2. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).  This passage records what are perhaps the clearest words in the New Testament concerning the relationship of baptism to salvation.  They are the words of Jesus Christ, through whom salvation comes.  He says that baptism follows belief and precedes salvation.
  3. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (Luke 3:3).  Again, we see that John the baptizer preached baptism for the remission of sins.  The verse following this one says that he did so in fulfillment of prophecy that one would come crying in the wilderness: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  As we have seen, the Lord’s way for men to have salvation involves their being baptized first.
  4. Then Peter said unto them, repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).  This was the apostle’s answer to the Jews who had realized their guilt in connection with the crucifixion of the Son of God and asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”  Peter’s reply leaves no doubt as to the relationship between baptism and salvation.  Baptism if “for” (in order to) “the remission of sins;” thus it is impossible for it to follow salvation.
  5. And now why tarriest thou?  Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).  Here, Paul quotes the words spoken to him by Ananias who had been sent to him by the Lord (Acts 9:10-16).  We cannot deny that Saul of Tarsus needed forgiveness of his sins, for he had persecuted the church severely.  And, among the things that the Lord had “appointed” for him to do (Acts 22:10) was baptism, which Ananias said would wash away his sins.  Anyone can understand that salvation cannot be had by one who bears the guilt of sin; and this verse very plainly says how such guilt is to be removed.
  6. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us…” (1 Peter 3:21).  Peter, as an apostle of Christ, was one to whom the great commission was directed.  He knew Jesus had instructed that baptized believers would be saved (Mark 16:16).  Salvation was never promised to unbaptized people – whether they believed or not.  Thus Peter clearly states in this passage that baptism saves.

Individuals who are interested in doing Bible things in Bible ways will not question the order that is seen in these verses.  Each of them mentions salvation, or remission of sins (which is inherent in salvation), and baptism together. In each instance we see that baptism came first. The only conclusion that can be drawn from such an observation is that the doctrine of salvation before and without baptism is false because the Bible does not teach it.

It should be understood that baptism is not the only thing involved in salvation, and that it is not the act or the element of water that saves.  But God saves those individuals whose faith causes them to obey all of His commandments, including submitting to the act of baptism in water for the remission of sins. (Originally publishedThe Pointer, Traders Point Church of Christ Indianapolis, Indiana. June 12, 1977)

By Dale Wilson